You Conduit!

Colin sits down to puzzle out the electrical system.

Colin sits down to puzzle out the electrical system.

Colin is an electrical engineer, so of course we’ll wire the house ourselves. He’s been stockpiling cable at the site for weeks now… every few days he’ll pull a new roll out of his car, point to it, and say, “$400.” Now that the plumbers have finished their job and vacated, it’s high time we open those rolls and start laying out the electrical.

Our first task was to get our conduits ready for pulling cables through. We have two main conduits: one runs 300 feet under the driveway connecting our outdoor control pedestal to the grid; the other runs 100 feet along our Barn connecting the pedestal to the basement. Since the conduits twist and turn, you can’t just thread a floppy cable through it – the cable would fold back on itself and get stuck. The solution is to thread something else through the conduit first, and use that to pull the cable through.

Terry ties a baggie to a string...

Terry ties a string to a baggie…

Terry had an ingenious idea: let’s tie a string to a baggie that fills up the conduit, then use a vacuum to suck it through. He filled the baggie with just enough soft foam to form an airtight seal and stuck it into the PVC pipe. Meanwhile Colin set up his shop-vac on the other end, and at the whistle-signal he turned it on. My how the string unraveled! We occasionally had to tug the string to coax the baggie around a corner, but otherwise Terry’s strategy worked like a charm and we had the conduit threaded in no time flat. We repeated the trick with electrical and telephone conduits, our only snag coming when a pebble lodged in one pipe prevented the baggie’s passage. In the end we sawed through that pipe to dislodge the pebble… now we’ll have to get a coupler and glue the conduit back together. No worries.

...and lets it fly through the conduit, with a vacuum sucking from the other end.

…and lets it fly through the conduit, with a vacuum sucking at the other end.

Today, Colin installed two major components of the electrical system. The first is a transfer switch, which allows us to connect the whole house to a generator and switches the power source automatically in case of an outage. Since the generator will live in the Barn, Colin mounted the transfer switch on the outdoor pedestal and routed our main cable through there. The second major component is familiar to any homeowner: the circuit breaker panel. This one got mounted in the basement mechanical room. We examined the panel’s 42 breakers – enough for all the planned circuits plus a few spares – and worked out where the neutral and grounding wires connect. Colin promises that, breaking tradition with the vast majority of electrical panels out there, his labels will be legible.

The transfer switch at one end of the conduit.

The transfer switch at one end of the conduit.

The electrical panel at the other end.

The electrical panel at the other end.

All of us worked together to thread our trunk cable connecting the transfer switch to the panel. Pulling it through the conduit was the easy part. It came out on the wrong side of the basement, and to complete the run to the mechanical room we pushed it up through our floor trusses, over and under ducts and plumbing. Tight quarters up there, but as always we got the job done.

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